Monday 30 April 2018

Famous Problems - Hey! It's Raining!

For a decade starting some point in the late 1990s, The Butterflies of Love were the tallest band in the world who walked tall. They wrote nothing but hits, but only hit some of the people some of the time.

Their last album was called Famous Problems - there were no better albums in 2007, trust me on this. This new band Famous Problems is The Butterflies of Love without Daniel Greene, who checks in at under 6’2” so presumably had to go.*

This new mini album isn’t far off Jeff’s contributions to the Butterflies. Which means fuzzy Nuggets pop, REM’s early garage rock tempest and witchy ballads. The title track - a pop song with two exclamation marks for the price of none - features whistling and is obviously a convincing plea to help write the next Monkees album.

A favourite? Tough call. But if I’m picking one then it’s I’d Do It A Thousand Times. It’s epic, distraught and superbly alive to love’s twin obsessions, pleasure and pain. It takes the classic American songbook to the bar and plies it with whisky until its heart breaks. And then collects a Grammy. Posthumously.

*Dan Greene is, Jeff acknowledges, “the best songwriter in the world”, and certainly proved that when he made We've Walked In Hell And There Is Life After Death as The Mountain Movers, which is one of the best 10 albums of the last 10 years. Trust me on this.

Tuesday 24 April 2018

The Hit Parade - Happy World

Syvlia Plath once trilled: "My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold A Mailman On The Street.” If I remember correctly, and I'm seldom wrong in these matters, she was anticipating the arrival of a new 7" single with a teenager's boundless joy and excitement.

So it was that The Hit Parade’s latest epistle from the frontline of failure reached Did Not Chart Towers, with a letter from Julian Henry promising: “I’m about to go on a spree of releasing 7” singles of songs as I write them, which is how I started off back in 1984.”

Happy World says “I’ve got to explain, my pop group brings relief from pain”, which is a poetic offering of ‘we do what we have to and if anyone likes us it’s a bonus’. It’s a tacit nod that things aren’t much changed in The Hit Parade’s world.

If that lyric and the intent to release more quality 7" singles in die cut sleeves weren’t enough to convince you Happy World is a return to The Hit Parade’s glory days, then the song’s similarity to their platinum-coated old favourite Heuvos Mexicana and the chorus namechecking their 1988 greatest hits collection “With Love From... The Hit Parade” will.

The Hit Parade have thumbed their noses at austerity and cut the dealer price of this record, so you can get it for under a fiver. It would be seriously remiss of you not to.

Thursday 19 April 2018

The great vinyl rip off

No week passes when indie labels don’t release albums on both vinyl and limited vinyl runs. This itself isn’t new - in the 1980s Creation, for example, released albums by bands such as My Bloody Valentine and The House of Love with a free 7” single.

These pressings sold out in a week. Their purpose was improved chart positions and to make the weekly music press and national radio aware that there was demand, even excitement, around their acts.

In 2018 when charts don’t matter and there’s no weekly music press it’s a much more cynical affair.

I understand that some of the smaller indies do this because then they can sell more by mail order, giving them a greater profit than selling to shops through a distributor (or maybe more realistically a better chance of breaking even). I'm cool with that, but many of the bigger labels are quite ruthless.

For for the bigger labels, the vinyl cash cow frustrates the artists as much as the fans. Last year Tracey Thorn said last year that “the comeback of vinyl is an absolute pain in the arse when you're making a record. Grrr.”

Her album Sister released this year? Well, it might have been released last year: “You could hear it an AWFUL lot sooner if it wasn't for the MASSIVE time delay caused nowadays by vinyl pressing.”

We’re in the position where vinyl sales make the tills ring because they’re sold at such exorbitant mark ups. Record companies need vinyl more than musicians or fans because it’s the only way for many of them to make a profit. So much so, they dictate an album's release date.

No wonder when you consider that YouTube is the biggest source of music in the world, playing billions of tracks annually, but in 2015 musicians earned less from it and from its ad-supported rivals than they earned from sales of vinyl.

The market for these vinyl releases is people with a lot of disposable cash. Labels know they don't have to wait for Record Store Day (or Black Friday or Christmas) to fleece punters. Let’s look at some recent examples:

Whyte Horses - Empty Words
Limited edition, signed and numbered double vinyl + download £20.99
Limited edition, signed and numbered double vinyl £18.99
Double vinyl £17.99

Comment: £2 for a download code? This is the future. At least half of the new albums I’ve bought this year haven’t had a download. We’ll have to pay for them all in the future because labels want us to stream on Spotify as well for more royalties, however small they may be.

Tracyanne & danny
Indies - only, colour vinyl with bonus 7" £24.99
Standard £18.99

Comment: the free 7” is no longer free. It’s an extra £6.

Eels - The Deconstruction
2 x 10” translucent yellow vinyl £25.99
Box set £52.99

  • 2 x 12” translucent pink vinyl in printed sleeves.
  • Printed box on uncoated paper
  • CD digipack
  • 28 page perfect bound lyric booklet with exclusive photos
  • 12” artwork print
  • A4 digital handwritten “rusty pipes” lyrics signed by e
  • E “tip & strip” pen

Comment: FFS, this is really taking the piss. I don’t know what a “tip & strip” pen is, but it sounds like the sort of promotional thing magazines used to give away to promote an album when record companies had millions floating around from CD sales.

Gatefold 180 gram vinyl LP + insert in luminous sleeve + MP3 download code 23.25
Gatefold 180 gram vinyl LP + 4 page booklet + MP3 download code)18.75

Comment: Luminous print must be pretty expensive and you don’t even get the booklet. This release’s poster campaign didn’t mention any of this. It said only: “THE DEBUT ALBUM NOW STREAMING ON SPOTIFY.”

Yo La Tengo - There's A Riot Going On
Limited orange vinyl 2xLP £19.50
2xLP £19.50

Comment: The only instance this year I’ve seen where both versions are the same price, although in some shops the limited limited is £2 more. A month after release, both versions are very much still available.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

Terry Vs Tori

Does Factory Records have a spare catalogue number? The Terry Vs Tori EP would fit right in next to the Durutti Column’s Sketch for Summer.

If they’re not answering the phone, call Cherry Red and put this record next to Felt’s Crystal Ball. It sounds like it should be in that company.

I hear a lot of bands making music almost entirely inspired by Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister. The results are typically uniformly thin and lifeless. I’m not faulting those bands’ intentions, but I implore them to find a different hobby.

Terry Vs Tori, despite being cut from similar cloth to those bands I find very tiresome, must make more records. This is the best indiepop record since Young Scum’s Zona 2 years ago.

Sunday 15 April 2018

Record Store Day 2028

Every year Record Store Day sees albums I bought in the 1990s reissued at eye-watering prices. If I could spot winners such as Luna and The Sundays then, surely I can spot the future collectables now. The logic is flawless, and shouldn't be confused with the fact that albums were pressed in small vinyl runs in the 90s and for half that time I didn't have a CD player and only bought vinyl anyway for the rest of the decade.

Box Elders - Alice and Friends
The late 00s saw a preponderance of garage rock bands who were largely uninspired revivalists. Box Elders were different, though. So different that they coined a new genre for their garage rock, "cave pop". They recorded their first single in a cave under the drummer's house in Nebraska.

They were teenagers so could write a song called Necro with the line "what do you call it when you love someone who's dead?". Alice and Friends is a masterpiece in bubblegum psych pop.

Fugu - As Found
Fugu claimed their debut album was an "idiosyncratic baroque sequel to "Sgt Pepper" meeting "Smile" and meant to be made in perfect 60's facsimile." It wasn't. Their second album, though, was.

It had the songs Paul McCartney forgot to write in 1967, recreated the urgent, irresistible power pop of the Raspberries and touched on the gauche melancholia of Neil Young on After The Goldrush to stride the world of popular music like a colossus of Smile harmonies and baroque, electronic grandeur.

As Found was never released on vinyl. Record Store Day, I'm waiting (10 years, I know).

Kings Go Forth - The Outsiders Are Back
They played a similar multi-faceted, driving funk and jubilant soul hybrid that sustained Curtis Mayfield's 1970s high watermark. It's soul music embracing its inspiration and opening windows to the future. They made only one album. God knows why. God, they were red hot.

Hacia Dos Veranos - Limay
Lawrence said in 1982 that the guitar Maurice Deebank used on Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty “made a sound like pins popping in your head”. I get the same sensation listening to Limay.

A better authority than me, The Clientele's Alasdair MacLean, said of Hacia's Ignacio Aguila: "Their guitarist is a maestro: economical, precise, lyrical. His rolling, arpeggiated style will remind you of Felt’s Maurice Deebank or Vini Reilly, but he also possesses a faint echo of Johnny Marr, in that for all his sense of space and harmony he’s playing tunes first and foremost."

Full disclosure: I'm part of the label that released this. We released it because it's brilliant.

Weekend - Sports
Kevin Shields, 1995: "I'd like to be around in five years' time, making better and better records." mbv, 2013: a collection of Loveless outtakes with drum’n’bass samples added in 1996.

Weekend, Sports, 2010: a sonic assault of no-wave sullenness, psychedelic insanity, hypnotic riffs and intense tunes dug up from a crypt. This will be repackaged with Red, a strong contender for the last decade's best ep, and their debut single, All-American.

Sports is still available. So is Red. This is where my argument falls apart and I start a new one: what the fuck's wrong with everyone not buying Weekend records?

C Mimi - Heavenly Peace

The year is 1983. The synth has one setting but there's also "melody from toy music box (composer unknown)". The place is Japan, although its darkness and quirkiness suggests Sheffield was in her mind, and C'est une Chanson is a definite throwback to French pop, accordion and all.

Heavenly Peace is a strange and wondrous ep. You might get it first time, it might grow on you or it could just not be your thing. Don't worry about it if it's not your thing. There are loads of unchallenging, simple, easy records - many of them wonderful - out there you can enjoy.

But if you want avant-garde, experimental music that makes you catch your breath and look at the world differently, then Heavenly Peace is a real record that tells you what the future sounded like in 1983. It still, today, sounds like it's pointing to some ways forwards.

It's sold out at source, but Low Company have copies.

Saturday 7 April 2018

Itchy Bugger - Done One

Low Company is a London record shop run on similar lines to Glasgow's now departed Volcanic Tongue. They stock wyrd folk, gauche DIY, witchy psych, loner electronics, post-punk jerkiness and any dance music variants found under the floorboards on the scene's outer fringes.

They've started a record label to release Done One by Itchy Bugger. Almost inevitably because of the name, Itchy Bugger is from Australia, a country whose musicians are seemingly unburdened by finding names you wouldn't object to wearing on a t-shirt.

Itchy Bugger is also known as Josh, formerly of Heavy Metal who were, depending on your outlook, either murder-punk maestros or reprobates with a fondness for animal drugs. Maybe they were both. Itchy Bugger's Done One is more lo-fi DIY with motorik beats and psychedelic chanting. However butterfingered it is they somehow manage to stumble towards the prize and grab it.

The recreation of The Creation's Painter Man as Baker Man shows they share some DNA with the Television Personalities. They might have had the same absentminded guitar teacher as The Cannanes and they've definitely got a similar primitive rhythmic drive and discordant jangle as the mighty Great Unwashed.

I like this album a hell of a lot. Stream it and buy it from Low Company.